03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Millennial Commission

If you believe the stereotype that Millennials, members of the generation born between 1978 and 2000, are indifferent to issues of social insurance -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. -- Congress's recent conversations should change your mind. Even if you imagined that young people across the country were not personally touched by or invested in the support that social insurance provides, you must recognize that the proposed Deficit Commission, intended to decrease the national debt by making cuts outside the democratic process, could serve as a rallying cry -- an impetus for the largest-ever generation of Americans to demand a voice in the debate. Before Social Security or Medicare are targeted and slashed as part of the undemocratic commission's "solution" to our growing fiscal debt, Millennials must be given the opportunity to weigh in. That is because we are engaged in these issues, we are prepared to contribute our perspective, and, most importantly, we are capable of designing the society that we would like to inherit.

It Goes Beyond Debt: Insuring Our Present and Our Future

As many have previously noted, the Millennial Generation is unique. We are interconnected, socially conscious, and innovative. We desire community, hold a holistic view of the world, and value progress. The Social Insurance programs taking the brunt of criticism by deficit hawks in DC have shaped our society since the Social Security Act's passage in1935. If they are to change, reforms should be informed by these values, and not simply by a goal of deficit reduction. A country's social insurance programs should be reflective of the citizens they serve. Therefore, instead of simply worrying about passing debt to future generations, Congress must consider the society that young Americans desire to live in when considering reform.

Millennials recognize the benefits of social insurance. We are beneficiaries of Medicaid benefits. We recognize the important role that Social Security and Medicare can play in our future. We aspire to self-employment and identify ourselves as entrepreneurs--an aspiration made less risky by a strong social safety net.

Additionally, Social Security already supports Millennials nationwide. For example, millions of young Americans are being raised by their grandparents. For many, the income received from social security makes this possible. Additionally, Social Security provides financial support to the families of children whose parents are disabled or deceased. In total, Social Security removes 1.3 million children from poverty every year and improves the impoverished conditions of 1.5 million others. Even Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) reaches less than half of the number of children whose conditions are improved via Social Security. As a generation, we must recognize that both our present and our future are directly affected by the existence, strength, and breadth of the American social safety net.

A recent report by the Center for American Progress and Demos confirms the Millennial Generation's support of strong social insurance programs in America. Millennials favor increased government spending to stabilize Social Security, with 66% of 18 to 29 year-olds in support, compared with 52% of those over 60. Similarly, the number of young adults favoring more government support for Americans' retirement stands at 69%, up from 56% in 1996 and 53% in 1985.

Let Us Design the Society that We Will Inherit

The Millennial generation's support for Social Security does not imply, however, that we are not concerned about the level of debt that we will inherit. We are not ignorant of the cuts or revenue-raising measures that will need to be taken to ensure the solvency of any program that we intend to support. We are concerned. We are conscious of the difficult decisions that need to be made, and, we must be included in these important conversations. In fact, the aforementioned values and attitudes that define our generation--innovation, social consciousness, and interconnectedness--imply a unique potential for Millennials to design a system that is fresh, transformative, responsible, and reflective of those people that it supports. We can imagine reform efforts that pay heed to reality and look outside the box to redesign our social safety net.

So, while we appreciate Congress's efforts to reel in the national debt, an undemocratic process that compromises social insurance without input from the citizens that it supports is not the answer. Failing to include the perspective of Millennials, the generation that stands to be impacted more than any other at the table, would represent a tremendous missed opportunity. Most importantly, by not engaging the Millennial generation on issues of social insurance, we fail to consult a generation of Americans equipped with powerful ideas capable of balancing our budget and reinvigorating social insurance for decades to come. That is something this country simply cannot afford.

This post was written by Hilary Doe and Lucas Puente.

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